The Deacon's Bench

One of the often-unreported stumbling blocks to a religious vocation isn’t spiritual.

It’s financial.

And this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times looks at this problem, and those who are trying to help:

Alicia Torres must raise $94,000 in order to take a vow of poverty.

Drawn to the Roman Catholic sisterhood while she was a student at Loyola University here, Torres faces the same barrier as many others considering such a religious life: college debt. Today, Torres and a group of friends will run Chicago’s Half Marathon — 13.1 miles along the lakefront — in hopes of receiving enough pledges to pay off $94,000 in student loans.

“You can’t live a vow of poverty with a bunch of debt,” said Torres, a 2007 graduate. “If God wants you to do something, he clears the way.”

Torres is one of hundreds who heeded the call of Pope Benedict XVI when, on his American pilgrimage, he bid his young flock to consider religious life. Though she has encountered romantic possibilities that tested her resolve, she said, she has had abundant moments of clarity that she is on the right path.

“I just know this is what Jesus asked me to do,” said Torres, 24, who with two others is founding a new Franciscan community on Chicago’s West Side.

Torres fits the mold of many young Catholics longing for traditions that waned after Vatican II and gravitating away from modern religious orders whose members live on their own, devote less time to community prayer or no longer wear habits. Experts say the inability of modern orders to attract new candidates and the lack of commitment among America’s secularized youth have led to a sharp decline in religious vocations in the U.S.

But some attribute the downturn to debt.

Five years ago, Cy Laurent of Eagan, Minn., founded the Laboure Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to eliminating the educational debt of Roman Catholic religious candidates. He insists that a lack of capital, not a lack of commitment, has kept hundreds, perhaps thousands, of faithful from answering God’s call. Torres is one of about 100 current clients.

Visit the link for more. And let’s keep people like Alicia Torres in our prayers.

PHOTO: Alicia Torres planned to run a Chicago half marathon, hoping for pledges to pay off her debt. (Photo by: Heather Charles / Chicago Tribune)

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